Robert Tressell was the non-de-plume of Robert Noonan, a house painter. The illegitimate son of Mary Ann Noonan and Samuel Croker (a retired magistrate), he was born in Dublin in 1870 and settled in England in 1901 after a short spell living and working in South Africa. He chose the pen name Tressell in reference to the trestle table, an important part of his kit as a painter and decorator. Based on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and his terror that he and his daughter Kathleen – whom he was raising alone – would be consigned to the workhouse if he became ill, Noonan embarked on a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working-class people and their employers. The “philanthropists” of the title are the workers who, in Noonan’s view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.
The novel is set in the fictional town of Mugsborough, based on the southern English coastal town of Hastings, where Noonan lived, although its geographical location is described in the book and is well away from the actual town of Hastings. The original title page of the book carried the subtitle: “Being the story of twelve months in Hell, told by one of the damned, and written down by Robert Tressell.”
Available in store and online.